Up in Smoke
Duo waited for the signal to begin loading, crouched at the edge of the LZ, one hand on his rifle, the other on his helmet. The dust and debris kicked up by the blades was thick, and he nearly missed the cue. In a bent over run, he was crossing the small clearing and jumping into the opened door hatch. Only then did he realize Quatre wasnít with him.
"Winner," he called out to the sergeant.
With a hand on the pull-up bar and a boot on a runner, the sergeant was jerking his chin towards the other Huey being loaded. Duo nodded, turned away and slumped down against the back wall. The search and destroy was more than they had been told; too many villagers were killed, and the dump discovered wasnít worth the cost.
At the Huey launched into the air, Duo peered out the open doorway watching the third helicopter in the line rise as well. Quatre had been with them, had watched the intel goons shoot locals; Duo had only heard about it after, and the look Quatre gave him...
The touch was simple and Duo turned. The sergeant was crouching next to him, giving him an assessing look. With the slightest of nods, the sergeant moved away, went to check the bandaged private slouching between the two gunners. Duo watched the sure hands, the reassuring pat and the sergeant move on. Talk was nearly non-existent, even if he had felt like it - the rotors' whump and thump made hearing impossible.
Sharp pings and a metallic whine were suddenly shrill in the small cargo bay. Both gunners locked and aimed. The return fire loud in his ears, Duo was bringing up his rifle, ready to do some shooting of his own. The sergeant was already at the opening, opposite the right gunner, firing his rifle from hip level.
"In the trees. In the trees," the static-filled voice announced over radio speakers. "Four on the right. Bird one, copy."
Duo edged to the opening, watched as the black dots ran toward the tree line. His rifle was up and aiming. Two shots and one fell. Swinging his rifle down and to the left, he fired off another three rounds; the packing pad above his ear exploded, showering him with batting.
"Bird three has been hit. Bird three has been hit"
The Huey tilted in a sharp turn; Duo clutched at the jump bar to keep from being tossed out. The words slammed home - a copter was spinning out of control, black smoke trailing behind. Quatreís name tore from his throat, his foot was on the outside runner and suddenly he was being jerked back.
"Sit on him!" the sergeant was yelling.
A body landed on his back. Duo pushed up, and the soldier pushed back down. His hands clawing on the bay floor, Duo inched his way back to the opening. Gunfire sounded around him - gunners, the sergeant and another grunt were firing out and down. Looking out, a dipping view of the ground appeared. The Huey righted itself, and the tree line showed. He was straining against the weight on his back, still working his way inches forward when it flashed.
"Bird three down. I repeat, bird three down."
No noise, no sound but his own breathing in his ears. Black smoke rose in a thick column. The ground below tilted again. Twisted metal lay in a blackened patch, red flames leaped, retreated and leaped skyward again.
The whump of the helicopter blade, the slow thump of his heart. Quatre was gone. A small explosion from the wreckage below, a rolling cloud of flame and smoke rose. The view vanished, and sky was all he was seeing.
Quatre was gone.
The new kid was sitting by himself, scowling at his lunchbox. "Hey buddy," Duo said, sitting down next to him. The new kid didnít answer but watched as Duo slapped his sandwich down in front of him, and snatched up the wax paper wrapped cookies. "Thanks for the trade."
Quatre was gone.
"Listen to that motor, man!" Duo was behind the wheel, revving the engine.
"So now itís the GTO youíre wanting me to buy." Quatre was watching him, smiling.
"What? You think Iím gonna to let you walk into Hell on your own?"
"You never could let me go off and do anything by myself. Youíre still an idiot, you know."